TAMPA — The Flick is a Jobsite play that you'll want to discuss with some pie after the show.
Annie Baker's 2014 Pulitzer winner for Best Drama sticks with you long after its curtain call. Dialogue-driven with a mix of post-9/11 cynicism and the '90s-style introspection of Clerks and Empire Records, the story takes us back a few years to the cinema industry's switch from 35mm film to a digital projection format, told through the conversations of three underpaid movie theater employees (Georgia Mallory Guy, Brian Shea and Thomas Morgan).
Cinematic on many levels, The Flick drops numerous references to movies, actors and filmmakers. Its direction, scripted with explicit instructions by the playwright, infuses neorealism with soundtrack snippets and real-time moments of relative inactivity.
From the beginning, when the booming overture of The Naked and the Dead Prelude plays over an empty, dim movie theater as a projector flickers for two solid minutes, we're braced for an atmospheric style of storytelling.
Jobsite does such an impressive job re-creating a cinema house that you can almost smell the popcorn. The audience views the action from the perspective of where a movie screen would hang, focused toward a projection window on the back wall. The projector pulsates like a heartbeat.
In a broad sense, the play chronicles the end of celluloid and innocence. Baker scripts her characters with the unique contours, shadows and tics of celluloid — the qualities that make individualistic people feel lost amid the perfect little pixels of a digitally fixated society. Credit goes to director Summer Bohnenkamp for bringing out the characters' uniqueness via physical comedy and poignant moments of realization. Their raw authenticity is never laid on too thick. Props also go to lighting designer Ryan Finzelber, technical director Kristen Konchak Garza and sound designer David M. Jenkins for their scene-setting.
The performances make The Flick a must-see. Morgan plays Avery, the youngest, sporting a Rain Man-like mastery of cinema trivia, which he uses as a coping mechanism to deal with his crippling anxieties. Morgan's eloquence, engaging delivery and emotional range convey his geeky Avery as more amiable than off-putting.
Two megatalents of the local scene, Mallory Guy (Rose) and Shea (Sam), bring relatability and emotion as Morgan's cohorts. Their portrayal of a movie theater crew shows us the best and worst of workplace bonding.
There were a couple of logistical challenges during our viewing. The reverse incline of the Shimberg Playhouse's front rows, which accent the optical illusion of being in a movie theater, made it difficult to see the action onstage. I found myself having to lean in different directions to see the actors. If you're on the shorter side, request seats in the bleacher rows.
The runtime felt a little long for some at two hours and 45 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. During our viewing Saturday night, some audience members were restless, getting up to use the restroom mid play and forgetting to silence their cellphones. I respect Bohnenkamp's decision to retain Baker's elongated pauses, but this choice comes with a risk of some attention-challenged individuals disrupting the play's stirring mood.
Maybe Jobsite should bring back in-person curtain speeches to teach the uninitiated how to behave in a theater.
Like Baker's play, live theater is a wonderfully imperfect world.